If There Is Much In The Window There Should Be More In The Room

Saturday, March 10, 2012

~The Mummies of Ürümchi~

Genre: Nonfiction
Author:Elizabeth Wayland Barber

"So, before the eyes of history has come a nation, from whence is unknown; nor is it known how it scattered and disappeared without a trace".
-Nicholas Roerich painter, traveler in Central Asia, 1926

Elizabeth Barber documents the exciting discovery of perfectly preserved Tarim mummies estimated to be 3,500 years old, in northwest China near Urumchi.

These mummies were found nestled in the sands of the Tarim basin, lying head to toe ritually wrapped in brightly weaved cloth. The discovery has challenged our traditional understanding of the historical footsteps of prehistoric man.

These mummies were so well preserved, so `life-like', that they looked like they had just drifted to sleep clad in their brightest outfits. This was due in part to the dryness of the desert and also because the graves were dug in salt beds which acted as a shield against decay. In facial type, they had high bridged noses, deep round eye sockets, beards which were surprisingly coated in fair hair which revealed that these mummies were neither Chinese nor Mongoloid. They were in fact, Caucasian.

What were Caucasians doing in this remote Central Asian region? Had not archaeologists always claimed that Mongol-type people inhabited this area since the Ice Age forty thousand years ago?

Where did they learn their sophisticated weaving techniques found on the clothes on the bodies of the dead? Barber claims that the weave of the plaid twills were Celt in origin which begs us to ask what is the link between the Prehistoric Celts and Chinese Turkestan? When and how did the they get there?

In the museums of Urumchi, the wind-swept regional capital of the Uyghur Autonomous Region in Western China, a collection of ancient mummies date back as far as 4,000 years—contemporary to the famous Egyptian mummies, but even more beautifully preserved, especially their clothing. 

Surprisingly, these prehistoric people are not Asian but Caucasoid—tall and large-nosed and blond with thick beards and round eyes (probably blue). What were these blond Caucasians doing in the heart of Asia? Where did they come from and what language did they speak? Might they be related to a “lost tribe” of Indo-Europeans known from later inscriptions? 

Few gifts are to be found in the graves of Urumchi, making it difficult for archaeologists to pinpoint cultural connections from clues offered by pottery and tools. But their clothes—woolens that rarely survive more than a few centuries—have been preserved as brightly hued as the day they were woven.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber describes these remarkable mummies, their clothing, their shepherding ways, and their path to this remote, mysterious, and forbidding place. She pieces together their history and peculiar Western connections from both what she saw in Urumchi and the testimony of explorers who traveled along the Silk Road a century earlier.
HONOR: 1999 Kiriyama Prize for Nonfiction

Cherchen Man or Chärchän Man
Chärchän Man is a mummy discovered near the town of Qiemo (Cherchen) in the Taklamakan Desert, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, western China. Cherchen Man "died around 1000 BC".The mummy is described as: a 3,000 year old male, "6-foot-6-inch giant with Caucasian features" (though Mallory and Mair put his height at no more than 5'5" ), with hair that is "reddish brown flecked with grey, framing high cheekbones", an "aquiline" "long nose, full lips and a ginger beard", whose face is tattooed with "yellow and purple patterns", it wears "a red twill tunic and tartan leggings"; it is also described as looking "like a Bronze Age European", "a Celt".- Wikipedia

WELL PRESERVED The mummy of an infant was one of about 200 corpses with European features that were excavated from the cemetery

The mummy known as the Loulan Beauty on display at a museum in Urumqi, China. The mummy has been called the Loulan Beauty because of her amazingly preserved stately facial features that have remained quite beautiful even in death.

Loulan was discovered in 1980, but it was 3800 years ago that she died on the trade route known as the Silk Road. The Beauty of Loulan’s people are clearly of Caucasian descent and their grave goods suggest that they were probably merchants of textiles and perhaps leather goods. They were buried with many clothing items including one man who was buried with ten hats, all of different styles. The settlements along the Silk Road might very well have been meeting points where merchants from the west traded their goods for goods from the east. Having multicultural merchants would certainly have helped facilitate communication between the traders. Pliny the Elder described the traders from this area as tall with flaxen hair and blue eyes. He also described their language as ‘uncouth noise’.

Loulan herself lived to be about 40 to 45 and she probably died from lung disease caused by environmental pollution from open fires and the gritty sand in the air. She was buried in well-made woven clothing and some of the other mummies are actually wearing plaid patterned loomed cloth. 


A Host of Mummies, a Forest of Secrets

Genetic testing reveals awkward truth about Xinjiang’s famous mummies 

The Dead Tell a Tale China Doesn’t Care to Listen To

*Original post date Oct. 10, 2008

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